Interchange (or, colloquially, the bench or interchange bench) is a team position in Australian rules football, consisting of players who are part of the selected team but are not currently on the field of play.
As of the 2016 season, at AFL level, each team is permitted four interchange players, and a maximum of ninety total player interchanges during a game. Players have no limit to the number of times they may individually be changed, and an interchange can occur at any time during the game, including during gameplay.
The four players named on the interchange bench in the teamsheet, which is submitted ninety minutes before the commencement of the game, must be the four interchange players who start on the bench, however they may be substituted immediately if the coach wishes.
Interchange rules are not uniform across all leagues. In the major state leagues, as of 2016, following interchange numbers are permitted:
In AFL Women's, in which each side has 16 players on the field instead of the 18 of the men's game, five interchange players are allowed, with no limit on the number of rotations. The AFL, which operates the women's league, decided not to impose a limit on the number of rotations, as that league is contested during the men's AFL offseason in the southern summer.
Representative teams (such as State of Origin teams), practice and exhibition matches often feature an extended interchange bench of up to six or eight players.
At different times during the history of the sport, there have been substitute players (also known as reserves) serving a function distinct from interchange players. A player who begins the game as a substitute may take no part in the game until he is substituted for another player, the latter of whom permanently leaves the field.
The substitute rule was resisted for many years, with the prevailing view in the 1910s and 1920s being that a team should be permitted only to substitute a player in the event of an injury, but that there was no way to rule against a team making a tactical substitution. A single substitute was finally introduced by the Australian National Football Council for the 1930 season, with no restrictions on whether the substitution be used for injury or tactical reasons. A second substitute was introduced in 1946, before the substitutes were replaced by interchange in the 1970s. Additionally, in the AFL between 2011 and 2015, a hybrid interchange-substitution arrangement existed in which there were three interchange players and one substitute; under those rules, the substitute was required to wear a green vest until activated, and the player substituted out of the game donned a red vest. As of 2016, substitution is no longer used in the sport.
In front of the interchange benches is the interchange area (sometimes called the interchange gate), which is a 15-metre stretch of the boundary line, roughly centred between the two teams' benches, through which all players must enter and exit the ground when being interchanged. It is marked on the boundary line with two short lines, perpendicular to the boundary, and sometimes with a slanted end. A player who interchanges outside of this area is not permitted to return for the rest of the game.
Where a player leaves the ground on a stretcher, he is permitted to take the most direct route to the changerooms for medical treatment, and is still permitted to return later in the game; however, where he leaves on a stretcher, the player must wait for 20 minutes of playing time (the length of one regulation quarter) before returning. If a stretcher is brought onto the ground but the player ultimately does not need to use it, he must still wait for 20 minutes before returning.
Due to new AFL concussion rules, effective from 2011 onwards, any player suspected of suffering a concussion must come off the ground and undergo a concussion test; if found to be concussed, he is not allowed to return to the field for the remainder of the game.
A player may be forced to make an interchange by the umpire under the blood rule. If an umpire sees a player bleeding, he will call time-on at the next appropriate time, stopping play until the player has left the field and been replaced.
Where the league has a provision to do so, an interchange steward is provided to monitor interchanges.
The primary means for controlling interchanges in most leagues (but not in the AFL) is via a Head Count, currently detailed in Law 5.5 of the game. To initiate this procedure, a team captain must request a head count from the umpire. The umpire, at the opportunity, will call time on, and all players from both teams line will line-up in the centre of the ground to be counted by the umpires.
If either team has more players on the ground than it should, the general rule is that the team's entire score to that point of the game is cancelled (unless the offending team's score was zero at the time of the head count), and a free kick and 50-metre penalty are paid to the opposing captain from the centre of the ground or the spot of the ball. Not all leagues automatically impose a cancellation of the score; in some cases - including the modern day Victorian Football League - the progress score at the time of the head count is recorded, and league officials meet after the game to assess whether or not to retrospectively cancel the score.
If both teams have the correct number of players, a free kick and 50-metre penalty are paid against the captain who initiated the head count; that captain may also be reported for time-wasting and ordered off (should the rules of the league permit) if the umpire believes the captain's primary reason for calling the head count was to waste time.
Head counts are rare at the top levels of the sport, but occur from time to time at suburban, country and junior levels.
The most famous head-count request occurred in the SANFL in Round 15, 1975. West Torrens' champion Fred Bills, playing the last of his 313 league games (having announced his retirement earlier that week) entered the field of play before John Cassin, who was injured and lying on a stretcher, had left it. This prompted West Adelaide, trailing 11.7 (73) to 12.10 (82) in the final quarter, to request a head count. West Torrens players ran for the boundary line, while West Adelaide players wrestled with them to keep them in bounds; in the chaos, one player, identified in the match report published in The Advertiser as Norm Dare,Note 1 managed to leap the fence and hide under a supporter's coat to avoid detection from the umpire. Ultimately, the count was abandoned when it became impossible to vouch for who was on the field at the time of the request, and West Torrens went on to win by three goals. The incident was celebrated as one of the sport's 150 greatest moments in the 150th year celebrations in 2008.
The other most famous head count occurred during the Grand Final of the 2018 North East Australian Football League season between Southport and Sydney reserves. Southport was leading by ten goals at three-quarter time, but accidentally sent nineteen men onto the field to start the final quarter; Sydney called for a head count twenty seconds later, and Southport's extra man was discovered. Sydney received a free kick and fifty metre penalty, but NEAFL officials decided not to annul Southport's score, citing a provision within the laws of the game which allowed the full penalty not to be applied if the breach had no material impact on the game. Southport went on to win the game by 55 points.
There have been only three head counts, all unsuccessful, in the history of the VFL/AFL:
Notable successful head counts around the country which resulted in the cancellation of a team's score are listed in the table below.
|League||Club penalised||Opponent||Match||Score at count||Count time||Final score||Report|
|VFA||Richmond||Essendon||Round 9, 1896||3.3 - 2.4||3rd quarter||1.4 - 9.9|||
|Reporter District Football League||Burwood||Camberwell||1911||16 - 10||1st quarter||30 - 32|||
|VFA||North Melbourne||Preston||1911||47 - 13||2nd quarter||69 - 48|||
|VFA||Prahran||Brighton||Round 10, 1921||26 - 17||1st quarter||34 - 34|||
|VFA||Northcote||Yarraville||Centenary Cup, 1977||89 -||4th quarter||20 - 154|||
|O&KFL||Moyhu||Whorouly||2008 First Semi-Final||15-22||2nd quarter||9-81|||
|BL&GFA||Barossa District||Willaston||2011 First Semi-Final||59-59||4th quarter||6-81|||
|VFL||Frankston||North Ballarat||Round 14, 2013||38 -||3rd quarter||23 - 64|||
In Round 6, 2008, North Melbourne and Sydney played a controversial drawn match, in which a bungled interchange late in the game left Sydney with 19 men on the field for about a minute, during which time the Swans scored the game-tying behind. Although the AFL's laws allowed for each of the Sydney players to be fined $2500 for the error, there could be no change to the match result because North Melbourne had not called for a head count.
This highlighted the impracticality of the head count rule, which had existed since the days before interchanges or substitutions were allowed, with a modern professional league with its rapid use of interchanges for fatigue management.
A few weeks after this incident, the AFL introduced a new rule allowing the interchange steward to inform the umpires of interchange errors: specifically, when a player enters the field before the player he is replacing has left the field, or when a player is interchanged without using the interchange gate.
In each case, the penalty is a free kick in the centre of the ground or at the spot of the ball at the time, whichever is the greater penalty against the offending team. If the offending team is not in possession of the ball, the umpire shall impose an additional 50-metre penalty against them.
in the case of a player not using the interchange gate, this penalty replaces the previous rule that the player would not be permitted to return.
Any score or free kicks given to the opposition when an interchange infringement has occurred are cancelled.
This process is seen only at the professional AFL level; lower levels of the sport still rely on the head count rule to police interchanges. AFL captains retain the right to call for a head count if they believe an interchange infringement has not been detected by the interchange steward, but this has not yet been exercised under the new rules.
The number of interchanges allowed has followed the following time-line under Australian National Football Council (ANFC) rules:
Following the disbandment of the ANFC, the following timeline indicates changes to interchange rules in the AFL. Other leagues have not followed this timeline:
Historically, the interchange bench was used sparingly, and mostly to take poor-performing or players who were injured and unable to continue out of the game. There was a marked change in this at the top level as professionalism grew in the sport between 2000-2010, and the interchange bench began to be used much more frequently as a means of rotating players to manage player fatigue through the game and offer rest periods for hard working players and game time for young/old players. The average number of interchanges in the AFL doubled between 2007 (56 changes per team per game) and 2010 (113 changes per team per game) as coaches sought to give frequent rests to their running players.
|Positions on the Australian rules football field|
|B:||Back Pocket||Full back||Back Pocket|
|HB:||Half-Back Flank||Centre Half-Back||Half-Back Flank|
|HF:||Half-Forward Flank||Centre Half-Forward||Half-Forward Flank|
|F:||Forward Pocket||Full Forward||Forward Pocket|
Law 7.2 (e): a Player who does not leave the Playing Surface as specified under Law 7.2 (d) is unable to re-enter the Playing Surface for the remainder of the Match